Welcome to A&A. There are 18 full reviews in this issue. Click on an artist to jump to the review, or simply scroll through the list. If you want information on any particular release, check out the Label info page. All reviews are written by Jon Worley unless otherwise noted.|
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A&A #254 reviews (June 2004)
The Awkward Romance
I never thought of Archers of Loaf as an emo band. Never occurred to me to even think about such a thing. Never even crossed my mind. Kinda strange, because I've always considered Treepeople to be an overlooked and underappreciated forefunner of the sound, and I've often pondered AoL's connection to those art-pop-punk boys from Seattle (nee Boise).
The reason I digress so excessively is that the Awkward Romance has that old school emo anthem thing going, but there's this odd clunkiness to the riffage that is a direct descendant (notice I didn't say "theft," because it's not) to the one-time kings of Chapel Hill. These boys aren't doing anything new, but they've put together well-worn sounds in unique fashion.
These guys are young. In their bios, they list Top 5 favorite albums. Weezer makes the cut in each--though not the same album. These guys are going for an edgier and more interesting sound--reminds me a lot of Vitreous Humor, the band that claimed it broke up because it didn't want to end up sounding like Weezer (that's not true, but it's still a funny joke).
The difference between cool and dull is razor-thin. The Awkward Romance needs to expand its listening and work out even more new ideas. Still, this first shot is chock full of energy. As long as they keep evolving and challenging themselves, these boys have a real future.
Carl Henry Brueggen
Cinzano & Cocaine
Carl Henry Brueggen was, in an earlier life, guitarist for Mount Shasta. For those who don't recall, Mount Shasta ripped off a few tasty chunks of Jesus Lizard-inspired no wave back in the mid 90s. So you figure Brueggen would get louder or simply freakier, right?
Try bossanova, baby. Brueggen jams along with some of the finest musicians Chicago has to offer (including the amazing Alejo Poveda on percussion--the one part of bossanova that simply has to be right), throwing down three songs per disc.
Simply lovely. These songs are fully orchestrated, lusciously ripe pieces of fruit just waiting to be plucked from the branch. Give Brueggen ten seconds and you're on the beach in Rio watching the waves roll in and the scenery stroll by.
Who knew you had to go to Chicago to find real bossanova? Just another reason why I consider the Windy City the greatest music town in the world.
Joey Cape * Tony Sly
(Fat Wreck Chords)
The frontmen for No Use for a Name (Tony Sly) and Lagwagon (Joey Cape) strip away the electric guitars and plunk down simpler versions of their songs. Well, sort of.
Sly's six pieces (each guy recorded five old songs and one new one) are just him and his guitar, with a little keyboard and percussion here and there. Not stripped down, though. The guitar has an astonishing amount of echo to it, and ubiquitous producer Ryan Greene multitracked both the guitar parts and the vocals. All that's missing is the rest of the band. I'm not sure this stuff is better than NUFAN, but it is still interesting.
Cape's tracks are even more adventurous. For starters, he's brought in a number of his Bad Astronaut cohorts to play strings, banjo, piano and whatever else needed to be done. And while the five "old" songs here were originally done by Lagwagon, these tracks are steeped in that proggy, art-punk Bad Astronaut vibe. Which is just fine by me.
Acoustic? Well... let's just say two talented guys decided to goof around. And they goofed in most excellent ways. This isn't punk music, but it's good music. In the end, nothing else matters.
Clair de Lune
Some ten to fifteen years ago, a few veterans of the midwestern hardcore scene decided to go deconstructionist. The result was no wave, symphonies of dissonance that seemed to simply explode from the center with no intention of returning. It started with bands like Dazzling Killmen and the Jesus Lizard and quickly disintegrated into squalling pockets of raging noise. I happened to love the stuff, but I was in the minority. Even such a startlingly strident sound as emo was in its infancy found a way to go pop. Hardcore turned toward the extreme. And all the noise faded into a dull roar.
Clair de Lune found it and has turned it into true symphonies. The arrangements here are grand and ambitious, and the raucous lines within fairly blister with their intensity. These songs are searingly bright screeches of anger and agony.
The Mars Volta used similar influences in crafting its deconstructionist prog-metal sound. Clair de Lune sticks to a rougher, meaner punk edge, but the overarching visions are quite similar. Both bands want to make the most important music on the face of the earth.
And damned if the boys don't come close. The songs here are densely-packed bombs, and just when you think you've escaped the carnage, another anti-personnel blast takes off your ears once again. I'm amazed by the vision and scope of this album. I'm awestruck by the achievement. Simply astonishing.
There's just something about a hard rock band with horns. Sassy horns, too. Actually, this sounds an awful lot like some old school midwestern bluesy hardcore/hard rock (somewhere between Laughing Hyenas and Raging Slab, I'd say) with a horn chaser. There's a lot of complexity within the noise.
And don't let the song titles ("Dick Dater," "Vegas Makes Her Fuck," etc.) fool you. There is a lot of caustic attitude being tossed around in between the impossibly thick boogie grooves, but don't ignore the subtleties.
Well, feel free to save them for repeat visits. On first listen, just let the throbbing desire pound its way into you. Once you've been properly softened up, you'll know much better how to accept the greatness that is being thrust upon you.
Dielectric Minimalist All-Stars
Not so much a group as an artistic concept, the Dielectric Minimalist All-Stars (on this release) are Loren Chasse, Die Elektrischen and Jason Levis. They went into a studio and were instructed to conduct a minimalist (however they interpret that concept) session based on a single concept: an alarm clock (wind up, I must assume). The tracks were then manipulated further by a number of other artists.
So what we have here are two discs of electronic and percussive noodling, only just so. This is "minimalist," of course. The liners suggest listening in the dark. That might work. It also might scare the shit out of you, especially if you've read too much Edgar Allan Poe ("The Tell-Tale Heart," in particular).
When reviewing music of this sort, I almost always mention that either you get it or you don't. Some folks think this is a cop-out, but I think it's only fair to be up front about the relative inaccessability of some types of music. If you do get stuff like this, then these discs will blow your mind. Minimalist doesn't mean simple. It doesn't--necessarily--even mean uncluttered. I wouldn't pay too much attention to that part of the name. The music here does exist within a significant amount of open space, but there are ideas galore.
And that's what this is all about--wandering around and discovering new ways of making music. New thoughts to share with the world at large. So what if most of the world isn't listening? This stuff doesn't exist in a vacuum. Well, not quite, anyway.
Electrified? Surely. Electric? Yep. Electro? Well...
I know, only lame critics rip on band names. And I'm not complaining. But I am curious. These folks blast out some fine late 80s/early 90s vintage distortion-laden pop. As I've noted many times the last year, this stuff is coming back with a vengeance, and this time I don't think it sucks.
It didn't suck then, either, but I was a bit of a philistine in this area and said a few nasty things about said sound. Take a look at some early reviews in the A&A archives and you might see what I'm talking about. In any case, Electro Group has a fine handle on the stuff, loading up delicate melodies with all sorts of extraneous noise. The key is the core of the songs. And these folks know how to write a good song.
Now, I do wish Electro Group had updated the sound just a bit. These songs could have come out of a time warp, down to the indie rock roughness of the basic lines. Still, when the songs are this good, I'm just not going to complain. Not very loudly, anyway.
Forty Piece Choir
Thre's something about the whole Americana movement that seems to inspire some really wild attempts at musical assimilation. A band like Lambchop throws in everything and then heads out to the junkyard to look for more. A guy like Ryan Adams is comfortable channeling Gram Parsons, Neil Young, James Taylor and the Replacements--sometimes in the same song. Forty Piece Choir is just as diverse in its influences, and that results in a fine album--an album that's probably too unique for most labels to stomach.
I mention labels because the band's website mentions that it is searching for one to call home. There are plenty of outstanding record labels in the band's Chicago home, and I figure one of them will pick up on these folks sooner or later. What to do with Forty Piece Choir is another question altogether.
While the vocals of Dana Okon and Kelly Kruse do lend a sense of familiarity, there is an awful lot going on here. The sequencing of the album is alright, but it really isn't optimal. There's not the sort of flow between the tracks that there ought to be, and they really don't build to much of anything.
Which isn't to say the stuff isn't great. Most of these songs are wonderful; they just seem a bit jarring in the order that they're placed. Sequencing is an art. When done right, it makes an average album great. A reshuffling here would make a very good album even better. When you're trying to do as much as Forty Piece Choir, every little bone thrown to the listener helps.
Scot Ray on dobro, slide guitar and banjo and Bill Barrett on chromatic harmonica. And in a few stomps and shouts and that's all there is. Period.
These songs aren't improvisations, but they do have the same electric thrill of discovery about them. Ray and Barrett know how to work with each other within the confines of a song, and they both play off and with (in a nice way, of course) each other to fine effect.
The sound is stark, with just a bit of echo behind Ray's picking. Like you were there at the coffee shop watching these boys work. I say coffee shop, but these bluesy pieces would do just as well in a downtrodden gin joint.
Or an Appalachian church--one that allows music, anyway. There's a bit of the city and a bit of the mountain in these songs, and maybe it's that unspoken tension that attracts my ear. Barrett and Ray weave an intricate spell, one that is curiously strong.
The Hollow Points
Not yer normal Dirtnap release. None of that new wave-inflected raggedy punk. Nope, this is tuneful and aggressive hardcore--the sort of thing that Epitaph put out ten years ago. Equal emphases on melody, power and lyrical stridency make these guys throwbacks.
In a good way. As NOFX observed on it's most recent album, punk music has always been about a reaction to the middle. No matter your persepective, the most important thing is to have one. There's nothing dumber than punk songs with nothing to say.
The Hollow Points have plenty to say, and they're polished enough to ensure that they say what they want with aplomb. Fans of early Pennywise or Bad Religion (before the oozin-ahs completely took over) will listen and smile faintly to themselves.
Waiting for the Tiller
"All songs written and deployed by Matthias Anderson." Deployed. I like that. It works, of course, because this is a collection of found and manipulated sound pieces, random bits of the ether tied into loops and bound to one man's notion of coherence.
Make that two. I like the way Anderson builds his pieces, starting off with a few atmospherics before dropping off into some serious trippage. It's never a good idea to get too weird too early--even practiced listeners of this type of fare need a reference point now and again. Anderson eases into his dementia, slowly turning up the heat until it is too late to leave the pot.
I mentioned electronic manipulation (distortion and other stock tricks of the trade), but Anderson is generally happy to let his pieces speak for themselves without too much window dressing. The power of the ideas is stronger than the edge of the sound. That's why this album is so good.
Plenty of regular readers will read this review and sigh. I'm off on another of my cherished field trips to the frontal lobes. Damned straight. And the other two hundred people in the world who love this kinda thing will savor this album like 30-year-old scotch.